By Dick Jerardi
With so much time to think, I was thinking about the best horses ever to run at Parx since 1974 when the track opened as Keystone. My criteria was subjective, but included national impact, divisional championships, Grade I wins, graded stakes wins, Hall of Fame induction, overall talent and longevity. Five Horses of the Year and three Hall of Famers have run at the track. I came up with 40 horses and three Also Eligibles (one as an entry). May have missed a few and left off a few that had great racing records, but did not have graded stakes wins. Here is my top 10, followed by the best of the rest in no particular order.
1. Spectacular Bid. Finished off his 2-year-old season with a win in the Heritage Stakes on Nov. 11, 1978 at Keystone. It was his ninth race that year. Think about that and how differently the top horses were campaigned then. Bid won five stakes and three Grade I races as a 2-year-old. Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before somehow losing the Belmont Stakes. Perfect season in 1980 when he was Horse of the Year, going 9-for-9 with five Grade I wins while setting track records in California, winning in Illinois on his way back east and capping his career with a walkover in the Woodward because nobody wanted to run their horse against the great Bid. Was 2-year-old and 3-year-old champion, as well as champion older horse. Won 26 of 30 starts and is in the Hall of Fame.
2. California Chrome. Ran one of the worst races of his life when sixth in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby. That was an anomaly for the two-time Horse of the Year (2014, 2016) who won the Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup and Santa Anita Derby. A lock Hall of Famer as soon as he is a finalist, Chrome won $14.7 million. Was named 3-year-old champion and champion older horse.
3. Smarty Jones. Only reason Smarty is not No. 2 on this list is longevity, but those nine races from November 2003 (first two races came at Philadelphia Park) to June 2004 will live with all of us forever. The Rebel, Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby sweep and the $5 million bonus, the biggest margin in Preakness history, the incredible effort in the Belmont Stakes, 3-year-old champion. I thought Smarty was a better horse than Chrome and I know he would have been a Triple Crown winner had the jockeys let him cruise on the Belmont lead like they did American Pharoah and Justify.
4. My Juliet. Won 24 of 36 races. Champion sprinter in 1976, the great filly ran Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes off his feet in that year’s Vosburgh. Was 4-for-4 at Keystone, her home track, including a win in the 1975 Cotillion. Won at tracks from California to New York. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
5. Gun Runner. Finished second in the 2016 Pa. Derby. Had an incredible 4-year-old season, including wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Woodward, Whitney and Stephen Foster. Was 2017 Horse of the Year and champion older horse. Finished off his career with a win in the Pegasus Invitational and earned almost $16 million.
6. Black Tie Affair. Started his career at Keystone on Sept. 28, 1988 for trainer Walter Reese. Raced seven times at Keystone. Was later sold and raced all over before a tremendous finish to his career in 1991 which culminated with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Won 18 of 45 races and was named 1991 Horse of the Year and champion older horse.
7. Ashado. Won the 2004 Cotillion. Finished her 20-race career with seven Grade I wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Was 3-year-old filly champion. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
8. Dave’s Friend. A little personal privilege. My all-time favorite horse was 3-for-3 at Keystone. If he had been better managed, he would be known as one of the great sprinters in history. Won 35 of 76 starts with 16 seconds and 8 thirds racing from 1978 to 1986. Ran at an incredible 21 different race tracks _ Pimlico, Keystone, Monmouth, Belmont, Bowie, Laurel, Meadowlands, Aqueduct, Suffolk, Churchill, Louisiana Downs, Ak-Sar-Ben, Detroit, Thistledown, Hawthorne, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Turf Paradise, Darby Downs and Fairgrounds.
9. Broad Brush. Won the legendary 1986 Pennsylvania Derby, going from first at the top of the stretch to last after bolting to the outside fence and then back to first. Won four Grade I stakes, including the Santa Anita Handicap and Wood Memorial. Won $2.6 million and nine graded stakes.
10. Havre de Grace. Won the 2010 Cotillion, holding off her great rival Blind Luck in the stretch. Beat the boys in the 2011 Woodward at Saratoga and was named 2011 Horse of the Year.
Here are 30 more in no particular order with comments. It’s a fascinating list and tells you how many wonderful horses have run at the track in its 46 years.
11. Songbird (Won 2016 Cotillion and lost by an inch in the BC Distaff, the first loss of her career. Named 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly champion).
12. Untapable (Won 2014 Cotillion before winning BC Distaff. Was 3-year-old filly champion).
13. Gallant Bob (Champion sprinter won 23 races and nearly $500,000 when that was a big number).
14. Bayern (set track record in 2014 Pa. Derby before winning BC Classic).
15. Revidere (won 1976 Cotillion, three Grade I stakes and was 3-year-old filly champion).
16. Smarten (won first Pa. Derby in 1979 and three other Derbies).
17. Sacahuista (DQ’d from first in the 1987 Cotillion before winning Ruffian, Spinster and BC Distaff. Was champion 3-year-old filly).
18. Will Take Charge (Won 2013 Pa. Derby after winning Travers. Named 3-year-old champion).
19. Temperence Hill (Finished fifth in 1980 Pa. Derby. Won Arkansas Derby, Belmont, Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Super Derby. Was 3-year-old champion).
20. Wayward Lass (won the 1980 Schuylkill Stakes at Keystone. Won the Mother Goose and placed in four other Grade I stakes). Champion 3-year-old filly.
21. Jaywalk (won 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Named 2-year-old filly champion).
22. Cathryn Sophia (won 2016 Kentucky Oaks).
23. Discreet Lover (won 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup).
24. Imperial Hint (won four Grade I sprint stakes in New York).
25. Formal Gold (finished second in 1996 Pa. Derby. Won four graded stakes in 1997 and compiled the highest Beyer speed figures of the 1990s).
26. Macho Uno (won 2001 Pa. Derby. Named 2-year-old champion in 2000).
27. Roamin Rachel (Won seven stakes, including one Grade I, one Grade II and one Grade III).
28. Xtra Heat (Ran once at Philadelphia Park in 2000. Won 26 races, including 25 stakes).
29. Plum Pretty (Won 2011 Cotillion and Ky. Oaks).
30. Jostle (won 2000 Cotillion, Alabama and CCA Oaks).
31. Lost Code (second in 1987 Pa. Derby. Won Derbies in four states. Also won Oaklawn Handicap and Massachusetts Handicap).
32. Summer Squall (won 1990 Pa. Derby after winning the Preakness, Blue Grass and Hopeful).
33. Frosted (won 2015 Pa. Derby. Also won the Wood Memorial, Whitney and Met Mile).
34. McKinzie (won 2018 Pa. Derby and three other Grade I stakes).
35. Dainty Dotsie (won 20 of 24 races, including 10 stakes).
36. Monomoy Girl (Perfect season ended when DQ’d in 2018 Cotillion. Won BC Distaff and 3-year-old filly championship).
37. Midnight Bisou (Placed first in 2018 Cotillion. Perfect season ended with a second in 2019 BC Distaff. Named older filly and mare champion).
38. Close Hatches (Won 2013 Cotillion and four other Grade I stakes).
39. Blind Luck (Finished second in 2010 Cotillion. Won six Grade I stakes, including Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, Named 3-year-old filly champion).
40. Abel Tasman (Finished second in the 2017 Cotillion. Won six Graded stakes, including the Kentucky Oaks. Was 3-year-old filly champion.
AE Ben’s Cat, Pure Sensation (tie). You could set your clocks for Labor Day every year for the last decade, wake up, go the track and watch either Ben’s Cat or Pure Sensation win the Turf Monster.
AE Flatter (the great Pa. bred steeplechase champion began his career with five flat races at Keystone in 1982).